Stop the Merger: Students and Taxpayers Deserve Better

Stop the Merger: Students and Taxpayers Deserve Better

On Election Day November 8th, voters in the Mount Abraham Unified School District and the Addison Northwest School District will be asked whether or not to approve a merger of the two districts. Many residents of our districts share a vision for our communities to work together to improve education for all of our students, and to do so in a cost-effective manner.

A merger will not help us achieve that vision.

The reality is that many residents in Bristol, Monkton, New Haven, Starksboro and Lincoln are very unhappy with MAUSD Leadership’s educational and financial track record. These problems only will be magnified in a merged, more powerful district, and those problems then will be harder to fix. Residents of ANWSD as well as MAUSD, beware! What you see in the MAUSD Leadership today is what you will get if the merger is approved.

We need a school district that is trustworthy in its relationship with the community, is competent with our students’ education, and prudently manages taxpayer dollars.

Has MAUSD Leadership shown that it is trustworthy?

● Prior to the August vote to ratify Starksboro’s withdrawal from MAUSD, the District Leadership repeatedly claimed that taxes for the remaining towns in MAUSD would increase 17% if Starksboro was allowed to withdraw. This was a false statement, as conceded by the District Leadership too late, a mere 6 days before the election.

● The MAUSD Administration recommended two years ago closing elementary schools without town approval, despite articles of agreement which promise a town vote.

Has MAUSD demonstrated effective and competent management?

● In the fall of 2021, concerns about safety and student needs at an MAUSD elementary school grew until parents and teachers were forced to bypass the MAUSD Administration and complain directly to the School Board. The public still knows very little about why this crisis developed, and what measures have been taken to ensure that a similar crisis does not recur.

● Top-down management and centralized control of direct services to students have not resulted in improved student outcomes, per District reports. Interventionists and coaches at local school facilities are hired and managed directly by the MAUSD Central Office, when a school-based program, managed and supervised by school principals, would be more effective. Not surprisingly, there has been no reported progress in attaining the educational quality goals in the District’s Strategic Plan.

Has MAUSD Leadership demonstrated prudent fiscal management of taxpayer dollars?

● MAUSD’s Levenson Report identified potential cost savings for MAUSD of about $5.6 million, of which by some estimates about $3.3 million in annual savings would not require merger, or closing schools, or moving all 6th graders to Middle School in Vergennes. One wonders how hard MAUSD Leadership is working to save taxpayer dollars.

● The MAUSD Administration is significantly over-staffed compared to national norms for a school district the size of MAUSD. MAUSD taxpayers could have achieved annual cost savings of at least $780,000 with a more streamlined administrative staff.

● MAUSD Leadership is on a capital spending spree, to the tune of millions of dollars. Of course, buildings need ongoing maintenance and repairs, but current construction projects appear intended simply to make MAUSD schools more attractive, designed to overcome perceptions that MAUSD facilities are in poor condition. Surely these taxpayer funds could be used better to actually enhance student learning.

There are better ways to offer improved education for students, and to prudently manage taxpayer dollars.

● Forming a cost sharing and education collaboration between MAUSD and ANWSD can save significant taxpayer dollars. A supervisory union is but one example of this type of collaboration. MAUSD’s Levenson Report shows that, by some estimates, around $3.3 million in savings for MAUSD alone can be achieved without merging districts or closing schools.

● An MAUSD/ANWSD collaboration without a merger of the middle school and high school will save up to $1.8 in extra transportation costs projected for a merged district, in addition to sparing students excessively long bus rides.

● Savings from collaboration without a merger can be used to expand educational opportunities at both high schools, such as jointly offering AP, foreign language or remedial math instruction, or investing in critical early education programs.

● Our educational institutions are only as capable of providing the education students deserve as they have the strong support of the communities they serve. The reality is that MAUSD Leadership has alienated its communities. It is far better to let the 9 towns in MAUSD and ANWSD develop organically into an educational community within a collaborative structure, rather than to force our communities into a precipitous, unnecessary and ill-advised merger.

I urge all voters in the towns of MAUSD and ANWSD to Stop the Merger by voting NO in the November 8th election.

Herb Olson